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Lobbying, Subsidies, and U.S Multinational Corporations (Part 3)

June 30th, 2008


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” Increasing demand for lobbyists in the late 1980s led to a growth in popularity of the practice, and the “Washington Game” began to perpetuate itself. The high demand also changed the traditional viewpoint that it was inappropriate for former elected officials to become lobbyists. Since 1998, 43 percent of the 198 members of Congress who are no longer in any elected office have registered as lobbyists at least once. [4] The overall result of this evolution is the ever-increasing presence of private money circulating in public affairs. The bottom line is that to the American politician, money matters greatly. In the 2002 midterm elections, candidates who spent more money than their opponents won 95% of all contested House seats and 75% of all Senate seats. [5]

In context of the model provided, there are many examples of the significant influence of multinational corporations on economic policy. America, despite being considered the most laissez-faire major power, is a massive provider of corporate welfare. A symbolic and instrumental assessment of most recent U. S. policy relating to multinationals bears very strong explanatory power. Partisan politics serve as a major front for symbolic stratification of policy. Generally, at least some semblance of connection between the larger stated ideological issues and the actual policies must exist. Though members of both the Democrat and Republican parties regardless receive immense contributions from multinationals, the prime political actors on behalf of large MNCs usually consist of Republicans, likely due to their ideological platforms which usually involve deregulation, trade liberalization, belief in the strength of entrepreneurship, and so forth. These beliefs, ironically, are used as the symbols to mask the economic interventionism of subsidizing large MNCs.

Given the general claims stated up to this point, the next inquiry must be into their actual historical relevance: what contemporary examples are there of MNCs demonstrating a palpable influence on U. S. policy? The difficulty of finding information on the topic is testament to the transparency that MNCs often enjoy in their lobbying activities, at least in regards to the general public. To discover the appropriate connections, one must integrate diffuse pieces of information from diverse sources in order to draw the connection between a particular firm’s action and how a government policy was determined. Furthermore, lobbying disclosure law is only relatively new, with the Lobbying Disclosure Act having been only passed in 1995. Besides the fact that lobbying activities falling under the guidelines of the law were sometimes underreported (especially during the first few years), there are still many methods of lobbying that have no legal disclosure requirements. These include “revolving door” offers, personal favors, insider information, and other transactions that frequently have no official paper trail. Discovering these obscure relationships beyond mere speculation is a matter of intensive research, including investigative reporting across many sources that only provide small amounts of information individually. For now, we will briefly explore two major and well-known contemporary examples of multinational industries that engage in and profit from abundant political activity: pharmaceuticals and petroleum.

The pharmaceuticals and health products industry constituted the largest portion of reported political contributions in 1998-2006, spending over $1 million.

Their critical policy objectives focus on international recognition of “intellectual property” rights to their drugs, in order to undermine cheaper competitive drugs which cut into their market shares, and the elimination of price controls caused by growing desires for healthcare guarantees. [6]

The pharmaceutical industry deals primarily with products that prolong or improve the bodily well-being of humans. In most societies, the act of “saving lives” is a moral priority, or at least a noble deed. It is no surprise, then, that all related policies are couched in strongly symbolic terms. Their public claims are broadly reflected by statements such as “without [assistance on this issue] from government, expensive research on important drugs will stop and many life-saving implements will not be available. ”

The industry’s influence on international trade is very palpable and significant. Its trade association, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) includes Pfizer Inc. GlaxoSmithKline Plc, Merck & Co Inc. primarily functioning as a means to increase transparency of individual companies’ political influence. PhRMA has filed 59 lobbying reports concerning the Office of the U. S. Trade Representative, more than any other organization historically. Drafts of the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement echo the pharmaceutical industry’s sentiments about price controls and intellectual property. Under its provisions, member nations will be required to comply with deregulated pricing and international patent laws. An examination of the voting record for implementing DR-CAFTA demonstrates almost unanimous votes along party lines: only 15 Democrats voted for the measure, and only 27 Republicans voted against it. [7] Furthermore, in light of CAFTA in 2005, Guatemala was pressured to repeal a law that would allow for increased marketing of generic drugs as long as the drugs were demonstrated to behave like approved drugs. The U. S. ambassador to Guatemala issued presented an ultimatum: Guatemala had to change its law to provide the clinical study data exclusivity mandated by CAFTA, or the U. S. Congress would not allow them membership. [8]

The oil industry, especially in extraction and transportation, is the beneficiary of a large amount of both direct and indirect subsidies. Two of the most significant (relating to their international position) are in the use of government resources in protecting their assets abroad as well as expanding their potential asset base, and in their lack of responsibility for environmental externalities caused by the consumption of fossil fuels.

The physical security of oil drills, pipelines, and shipping lanes constitutes billions of dollars of U. S. government services. Friendly diplomatic relations must be maintained with major exporter countries, especially those with U. S. -owned holdings. Likewise, military force must be readily available to combat any attempt to seize or otherwise disrupt oil supplies by foreign aggressors. Besides maintaining existing American assets and relationships, the government has also engaged in policies in seeking out new sources of oil. One need only imagine a world that did not need petroleum, and aptly ask: “would our foreign policy be the same if that were the case? ” It is misleading, of course, to characterize the government’s heavy interest in maintaining and expanding oil supplies as only a resource transfer to large oil companies, as much income in America is authentically dependent on the energy generated by oil. Nonetheless, it is still a subsidy that discourages substitutes and conservation.

It is no surprise that Republicans advocate the very symbolic policy goal of an aggressive outward foreign policy. According to the Center for Reponsive Politics, in the 2006 election cycle, Republicans received 84% of all campaign contributions from the oil industry.

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